(Reuters) - Jon Huntsman Sr., a billionaire U.S. industrialist who invented the “clamshell” fast-food container and gave away much of his fortune for cancer research, died on Friday at age 80, the corporation he founded said.
Huntsman died at his home in Salt Lake City surrounded by his family, Huntsman Corp, a specialty chemicals company based in Texas, said. It gave no details.
“While never a chemist, he knew more about human chemistry than anyone I have ever met,” his son Peter Huntsman, the company’s chairman and chief executive, said in a statement.
Huntsman founded Huntsman Container Corp in 1970 and four years later won the contract to create the polystyrene “clamshell” food container for McDonald’s Corp. He invented as many as 30 other products, including the first plastic plates and bowls, the company said.
The Salt Lake Tribune, which is owned by Peter Huntsman, said in an obituary that Huntsman donated or committed to donate at least $580 million to the Huntsman Cancer Institute in Salt Lake City.
Huntsman’s commitment to cancer research came after he underwent surgery for prostate cancer in 1992. Both his parents had died of cancer, the obituary said.
Huntsman donated at least $1.8 billion to charity during his lifetime, making him one of roughly two dozen people worldwide to give away more than $1 billion, the newspaper said.
Huntsman was born in Blackfoot, Idaho, on June 21, 1937, to Blaine Huntsman, a schoolteacher, and Kathleen Robison Huntsman. He described his father as abusive, and for a time the family lived in a two-room house without plumbing.
“‘Throughout my life I have hustled to outrun the shadow of poverty,’” the obituary quoted him as saying in his 2015 autobiography, “Barefoot to Billionaire.”
He earned a scholarship to the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania and served as a Navy officer before entering business.
Huntsman was staff secretary to President Richard Nixon and in 1988 briefly challenged Utah Governor Norm Bangerter for the Republican nomination before dropping out of the race.
Huntsman married his high school sweetheart, Karen Haight, in 1959. He is survived by eight of his nine children, 56 grandchildren and 26 great-grandchildren, the obituary said.
His son Jon Jr. served as governor of Utah from 2005 to 2009 and sought the Republican presidential nomination in 2012. He now is ambassador to Russia.
Reporting by Ian Simpson; Editing by Leslie Adler